BEASTARS is back, baby! After yet another interminably long wait for the show to be released from the musky dungeons of Netflix Jail, at least for us Western fans, we can finally begin the next chapter of Paru Itagaki's weird and wonderful anthropomorphic odyssey, courtesy of Studio Orange. This is also the first time we've been able to cover the series in a weekly review format (though we'll be covering the show in two-episode chunks to try and facilitate Netflix's binge-watching model). If you're not familiar with my feelings about the anime's first season, here's the short version: I adore BEASTARS, even when its story threatens to become too ambitious for its own good, and I don't think there's any studio that is doing better work than Orange when it comes to mixed 2D and 3D animation for television.
Since Season 1 of BEASTARS was a nearly unqualified success, Season 2 has a very tough act to follow. Not only does it need to build upon the compelling character arcs that Legoshi, Haru, and Louis got started last year, but it needs to find a narrative hook that can sink its claws into audiences the same way that Season 1's romantic maelstrom did. To this end, “A Teen's Never-Ending Alarm” and “The Grey Police Hound Runs” turn back to the plot thread that kicked off the entire series: The murder of Tem the llama at the hands (or claws) of a fellow student, and the shockwaves of fear and suspicion that it sent rocketing through Cherryton Academy's carnivorous and herbivorous populations.
The murder mystery plotline is a great hook upon which to hang Legoshi's character development, at this stage in the story, because of how rooted it is in his fundamental internal and external conflicts, even though the actual case has very little to do with him. All of Season 1, after all, was concerned with the weird psychosexual anguish that colored Legoshi's obsession with Haru. Did he want to eat her, to sleep with her, or some inextricable combination of the two? Could a predator like Legoshi ever have a successful romantic relationship with a rabbit like Haru, whose own life experiences have been so shaped by her status as a diminutive prey animal? The push and pull of the different demographics at Cherryton have shaped every step of Legoshi's transformation, as he's grown from a terminally awkward social outcast into a slightly-less awkward dork who has earned the reputation of the school's reluctant badass.
This is BEASTARS, though, and Paru Itagaki's maverick method of planning and pacing her story means that, even though Tem's murder is a perfect focal point from a thematic perspective, it doesn't fit in to the plot as seamlessly. As anime-only fans are probably happy to attest, it's honestly very weird that BEASTARS would use Tem's murder as the opening scene of the first season, only to barely mention it at all until this second season beings, long past the point that most viewers would care all that much about finding out which of the Cherryton kids used Tem's guts to play a nasty game of Cat's Cradle. Even the majority of Episode 1 isn't really about solving Tem's murder; it's more focused on using the rumored monster that is stalking Cherryton's halls to remind the audience that the murder even happened, and on reintroducing the audience to our principal characters. Legoshi is as neurotic and introspective as ever; Jack is still the goodest of Good Boys; Haru is continuing to navigate the parameters of her new relationship, and Louis…well, we'll get to him.
No, it isn't until Episode 2 that we get an idea of what this season is really going to be about, and even then, in true BEASTARS fashion, it comes about in the weirdest manner imaginable. A “normal” story probably would have had Legoshi get roped into investigating Tem's murder from his friendship with the victim, or perhaps because he got pinned for the crime because of his status as the weird lone wolf that could plausibly eat a kid if he wanted to. Maybe Legoshi realizes that his ability to have an open and honest relationship with Haru depends on clearing his name and restoring the balance of predator/prey harmony at Cherryton, and so he puts on his gumshoes and his detective hat and gets to work.
All of these concerns are technically being addressed, kind of, but again, this is BEASTARS so they all end up getting overshadowed by the fact that Legoshi is more-or-less assigned the case by the giant rattlesnake security guard that has been stalking him all year, and pushed him to solve the case as a kind of self-actualization ritual that will help him achieve his True Potential as a Sexy Wolf-Man™. Her name is Six-Eyes (or Rokume, if you're going by the subs/episode descriptions), and she's…well, she's really weird, is what she is. It isn't just the fact that Cherryton has a big ol' snake with blown-out eyelashes and an adorable hat creeping along through its halls to serve as its mythical security presence (though that is strange). And it isn't the fact that Six-Eyes apparently suffers from a crippling social anxiety that comes from the perceived “deformity” of having no legs, or how her aggressive and emotionally charged breakdown of Legoshi's strength and potential comes across as very flirtatious (though that, too, is pretty strange).
No, beyond the oddness that is inherent to Six-Eyes as a character, there's the matter of how she bursts out of the laundry room vents and simply tells Legoshi that he's the only one that can solve Tem's murder, that he needs to do it, and thus begins our second major story arc. It isn't bad, necessarily, but it flies in the face of a lot of conventional storytelling wisdom, and it makes for a less approachable beginning than the simple “Will the rabbit and the wolf kiss!?” conceit of Season 1. It also means that Legoshi spends less time interacting with the likes of Haru and Louis as he goes about chasing leads and inadvertently terrifying the local llama population. He does manage to accidentally subdue Roger, the gym-locker raiding kangaroo with a penchant for boxing, which is something!
So, that's what Legoshi is up to, more or less, and these first two episodes are so chock-full of table setting and ominous portent that we don't actually have a lot to break down when it comes to our other leads. Louis, at least, gets an extremely tantalizing tag at the end of Episode 2 that reveals his new gig: While Legoshi is off playing detective, everyone's favorite misanthro(pomor)phic deer is running the motherfucking lion mafia. This was undoubtedly one of my favorite developments when I originally read the manga, and I think the anime nailed the reveal, with Louis waltzing into the turtle butcher's abode from behind his Shishigumi underlings like the shameless son of a bitch that he is, and I absolutely love it.
Haru, unfortunately, gets a lot less to work with, and I'm really hoping that Orange's approach to adapting the material can afford her some more time in the spotlight as the season continues. Her one scene with Legoshi is cute, though, even if it only makes the poor boy even more confused about what the hell their relationship even is. If nothing else, it gives fans of the first season even more reason to buy into Legoshi's quest to right the injustice of Tem's murder. A world where the carnivores and herbivores get along is the world that Legoshi needs to make real, if only so he can finally smooch that goddamned rabbit.
The Cherryton School Wave
• Welcome to the The Cherryton School Wave, where all of my stray thoughts and random observations will go. I'll keep it short, this week, since the review is already long enough, but one thing I need to point out is that I'm actually going to be using the English dub as my primary reference for these reviews. Not only are the performances uniformly excellent, but it also doesn't butcher everyone's names. I've come to terms with “Legoshi”, but I simply cannot handle Haru and Louis being called “Hal” and “Rouis”. It's also why I'll be referring to Rokume as “Six Eyes”, along with any other dub-exclusive name variants.
• One moment I absolutely have to shout out is when Legoshi asks Six Eyes to put her world-changing exposition dump on hold so he can switch out his load of laundry. 90% of BEASTARS' success is dependent on Legoshi being an impossibly weird but endlessly good boy, and I'm proud to see him keeping up the work.
• Also, Tem's friend/Els' ex-boyfriend is named Karl. A llama named Karl. That…that's probably a coincidence, right?
BEASTARS Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix. James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.